Nadim Nawareh and Mohammed Salameh, both 17* years old, were marking the Nakba or "catastrophe" by participating in a demonstration near the Ofer military prison in the West Bank city of Beitunia when they were fatally shot. Another teen, 15-year-old Mohammad Abdullah Hussein al-Azzeh, was also wounded in the incident.
Evidence obtained by HRW refutes claims by the Israeli military that it had only used rubber bullets, not live fire, to shoot at the demonstrators.
The group's findings, which are based on the wounds to the teens, as well as unedited video footage and eyewitness accounts, show the teens posed no imminent threat, making the use of the live fire in violation of the Israeli military's own rules as well as international law.
"The willful killing of civilians by Israeli security forces as part of the occupation is a war crime," Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director for HRW, said in a statement issued Monday.
"The willful killing of civilians by Israeli security forces as part of the occupation is a war crime."
— Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW"The Israeli military’s claim that its forces didn’t shoot any live ammunition on May 15 does not stand up to scrutiny," Whitson said.
Additionally, an eyewitness told the rights group that the Israeli forces shot rubber bullets at rescuers as they were evacuating Nawareh.
The event sparked international condemnation when CCTV video footage of the shooting was obtained and circulated by Defense for Children International — Palestine.
Days later, Palestinian rights group B'Tselem also circulated video footage of the event. Similar to HRW's report, B'Tselem found "strong evidence that live ammunition was used" based on the video, medical opinions on the teens' wounds and eyewitness accounts.
"Israeli forces continue to use excessive force and recklessly fire live ammunition and rubber-coated metal bullets on unarmed protesters, including children, killing them with impunity," Rifat Kassis, executive director of DCI-Palestine, stated in the wake of the shooting. "While Israel claims to open investigations into such incidents, they are not transparent or independent, and seldom result in a soldier being held accountable," he said.
"To end the impunity that this latest incident exemplifies," HRW's Whitson added, "Israel’s allies should apply serious and sustained pressure on Israel, and Palestine should seek the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court."
See more on the shooting in this video from DCI-Palestine. Warning: some viewers may find some of the footage graphic.
[Human Rights Watch and B'Tselem indicate that Nawareh and Salameh were 17, while DCI-Palestine indicates Salameh, also known as Abu Daher, was 16.]